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Combat winter blahs with light, exercise

During the winter, I get depressed. I long for spring, my favorite time of the year, and sunshine

Winter darkness can "get people down" and contribute to reduced productivity and creativity, Dr. Norman Rosenthal, author of "Winter Blues: Everything You Need to Know to Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder," told me in an interview.

Exercise helps me ease the winter blues. Walking outdoors on sunny or cloudy winter days and making one or more rooms in the home brighter also can help.

However, for some people winter brings depression, the need for more sleep, lack of energy, and a craving for starches and sweets that causes weight gain.

Rosenthal began studying individuals with these symptoms 26 years ago. He discovered a syndrome, which he called seasonal affective disorder, or SAD.

If your functioning is significantly impaired or you're experiencing significant feelings of depression at the onset of winter, you should seek medical advice, says Rosenthal.

Once you've been diagnosed with SAD, you can think through some of the things you can do to feel better.

Rosenthal suggests buying a premade light box. For suggestions see his book, his Web site, or the Web site of society for Light Therapy and Biological Rhythms.

Light boxes cost between $250 and $350. Look for a return policy of 30 days. Get the light box out, and start trying it when it arrives. Results are usually seen within two to four days.

Some people need 15 to 20 minutes a day of light therapy. Others may need considerably more. Once a regime is established, it must be undertaken daily.

Recent research shows that cognitive behavioral therapy -- problem-solving therapy or counseling -- is helping for treating SAD, as are certain antidepressants, Rosenthal says.

About 6 percent of Americans, 14 million, have SAD, while another 14 percent of adults suffer from winter blues.

Tomorrow's post will cover how the lack of sunshine, which helps the body make vitamin D, affects health.


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Lisa Robison

Do you know if there is any connection between SAD and the cold winter temperatures, as well as the hours of daylight? I live in the sub-tropics, and no one talks about SAD here, though I don't know if it's because the hours of sunlight per day vary less throughout the year, or because we never have winter temperatures. I suppose we are more afflicted with hurricane season anxiety.



Dr. Rosenthal, in "Winter Blues," discusses people who have SAD in the summer rather than the winter. He says that summer depressives frequently attribute their symptoms to severe heat whereas winter depressives more often attribute their symptoms to a lack of light.

But he adds that some winter depressives feel that the extreme cold of winter may also play a role in their symptoms, but this possibility has yet to be explored. On the other hand, it is possible that some summer depressions may be triggered by the intense light, rather than the heat, of summer, Rosenthal says in his book.

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